If nothing else, my life is a monument of what not to do. If you want to get far in life, grab a seat, watch me for a few minutes, cringe in pain, then go do the opposite.
Case in point? Fifth grade, a time when a boy starts his long journey into manhood, but thinks he’s already there. Disaster in the making. In the course of one event, I first made a mistake, and then made another mistake that made the first one worse.
So watch, cringe, do the opposite. For you own sake.
Lesson #1: Be Yourself
That may sound corny. My Christian audience may throw Joel Osteen hardcovers at my head at such pop-Christian “spirituality.” But hear me out: I say “Be you” because God made you a certain way. You’re going to thrive if you stay within the maker’s guidelines and fail if you try to be someone else.
Like a microwave was meant for food, not batteries. Sure am glad the church didn’t make us pay for that one.
So let me set the scene: fifth grade, Mrs. Reyes’ class. The school is about to do a cross-country race, which was a run around the football field, then back up one side. I am not athletic. I hated sports, hated talking about sports, and if somebody liked sports, I made up reasons why they were a bad person.
I’m mostly joking, but I never enjoyed sweating. So when the teacher went down the alphabetical list, asking if we wanted to participate, I said, “No.”
But then the teacher kept going and I noticed a pattern. All the boys say “Yes.” All the girls said “No.” So what did that make me? I suppose now in 2018 this is silly to some of you, but in 1998 (I am HOW old?!), boys were boys and girls were girls, and I cared way too much about what people thought of me.
So to prove my masculinity, I chickened out and changed my vote to “Yes.” I had never run a race in my life. I hated running. I could gain absolutely nothing from this that I actually wanted. Stamina? Health? Athletic prowess? It’s all just Monopoly money I tell you! But I wanted to make people like me.
I set myself up for failure. That always happens when you get outside who you were made to be.
And then I made it worse.
Lesson #2, Work Smart, Work Hard, Just Work
“Working smart” would have been going up to the teacher and saying, “Hey, Mrs. Reyes, I know I already changed my answer once, but I don’t want to run in this race. I’m confident in who I am, and that person is not an athlete. Sorry for the back-and-forth.”
But that would have been smart. I’d already flunked that test, so I had to work hard. And when you’re in a bad situation, hard work is exactly what you need to make the most of it.
So I had to practice. I had to get off my flabby butt and run. I had to find other runners and train with them if I could. I also lived on a long, quiet stretch of road, perfect for long-distance training. I’d gotten myself into this situation to prove my worth, and now I had to earn it by training hard.
Except I didn’t do that. I didn’t train at all. It didn’t even cross my mind that I had to train. To be fair, I wasn’t there to win, I was there to participate. But I didn’t anticipate how it would feel when all the other boys peeled ahead of me and kept going while I was wheezing behind them, which is exactly what happened.
I came in second-last, and that was only because the boy in last, someone I didn’t like, was coming up behind me, so I squeezed out every last bit of effort I had to just so I could avoid one shred of humiliation.
In summation, I volunteered for something I didn’t want to do in order to prove myself, and then I embarrassed myself doing it, all while not having fun.
Are you cringing yet? Good.
Don’t Be Stupid, Stupid
So yeah, I biffed it. I biffed it twice. I tried to be someone I wasn’t, an athletic hero, when I already knew my strengths lay down the artistic route. But then when I got into a bad situation, I made it worse by not putting in the effort necessary to make the most of it.
Learn from my mistakes. I’d hate to see you embarrass yourselves like I did.
#1: It’s good to emulate and learn from others, but you aren’t them. God made you your own way with your own path to follow. Stay on His course and you’ll not only highlight and hone your gifts, you’ll also strengthen your weaknesses. If you try to be something you’re not, your talents will rust and your failures will shine.
#2 Everything good in life takes hard work. Work smart, yes, but hard work is still in the formula. This is true in good places, but doubly so in bad ones. When a ship is sinking, it doesn’t matter whether you want to be there, you’re there, so swim like mad.
And never ever be a boy in fifth grade.